After reading China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, my Facebook religious views status read “Cult of Palgolak” for a couple months. Because the truth is, if I were to believe in a deity, it would totally be this one:
(Wikipedia) Palgolak is the god of knowledge, who features in the novel Perdido Street Station. Palgolak is typically depicted as either a human or a Vodyanoi, sitting in a bathtub that floats mystically across the cosmos’ infinite dimensions, observing and learning. It is believed that anything learned by a follower of Palgolak is also known by Palgolak himself, a quality that gives his worshipers desire for knowledge.
And from the book itself:
He was an amiable, pleasant deity, a sage whose existence was entirely devoted to the collection, categorization, and dissemination of information … Everything known by a worshipper was immediately known by Palgolak, which was why they were religiously charged to read voraciously. But their mission was only secondarily for the glory of Palgolak, and primarily for the glory of knowledge, which was why they were sworn to admit all who wished to enter into their library.
I love the idea of a religion completely devoted to the creation, consumption, and dissemination of knowledge–I tell my classmates, only half-joking, that Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library on campus is my church. But in this digital age of ours, the real manifestation of the Cult of Palgolak and library cathedral would have to be Wikipedia.
Wikipedia editors are volunteers, contributing to the largest encyclopedia in human history, available to anyone with an Internet connection. It’s the bane of teachers, the holy grail of homework, the first resource of anyone looking for information on any topic in almost any language, and the most successful digital humanities projects… ever. Democratization of information ftw!
This semester I’m taking a class through the UA history department called Intro to Digital Humanities. Basically, DH (and no, I don’t mean Deathly Hallows) is about integrating technology into traditional scholarship (particularly in the more qualitative fields of the humanities). What our excellent professor suggested the first day of class, however, is that DH is a set of values too: an ethos of collaboration and sharing that the Internet makes possible on a wider scale than ever. Wikipedia definitely brings together technology and research, but it also demonstrates that collaborative spirit in action. It’s kind of a crazy utopian idea when you think about it–but it’s working.
Last class, we had a guest speaker join us, a professor of Middle-Eastern History from Florida State University. We had a long debate about the value of Wikipedia (the class seemed to divide fairly quickly into idealists and skeptics)–and then our guest asked how many of us have ever edited a Wikipedia article. No hands. And then we broke for Spring Break.
But it made me think–we’re in a class all about the sharing of information, and not even contributing to the greatest such project in human history. Volunteering to edit Wikipedia is an act of democratic participation–maybe even a sign of good global citizenship. You don’t have to be a worshipper of Palgolak to start to feel that participation is almost a moral duty. Which is why I’m making a belated New Year’s resolution to be an active Wikipedia editor. Current task? the Unreferenced Articles WikiProject. As a history student, I’ve got some mad citation skills.
So now the only question is– when can I put this on my resume under community service?